What has happened to the Cowboys’ defense?

Through all of the criticism that Wade Phillips has received while he’s been the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he’s always been reprieved in one area: His defense.

Even though the Cowboys faded down the stretch last year, they still owned the eighth best defense in the NFL thanks in large part to Phillips. Dallas ranked fifth in passing yards allowed and 12th in rushing yards allowed, which helped Phillips retain his job over the offseason.

But in two games so far this season, Dallas has surrendered 54 points. In their 33-31 loss to the Giants on Sunday night, the Cowboys were routinely beat through the air as Eli Manning threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns on 25 of 38 passing. And in case you’ve forgotten, he doesn’t have Plaxico Burress at his disposal anymore, nor has Amani Toomer found the fountain of youth and returned to New York to give Eli a solid possession receiver.

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This just in: Ray Lewis can still play.

Remember this offseason when Ray Lewis put up a small stink about being disrespected as he attempted to coax a long-term deal out the Ravens? Due to his age (34), Lewis was criticized for demanding too much money and not settling for his market value.

When the dust settled, Lewis agreed to a three-year, $22 million contract that was incentive laden. He then reportedly lost 15 pounds from his last season’s playing weight and looked leaner and quicker in preseason.

In the Ravens’ 31-26 win over the Chargers in San Diego on Sunday, Lewis once again proved that he could still play at an elite level in the NFL. He racked up 12 tackles (10 solo), one QB hit and three tackles for loss. He also saved his best play for his last.

With the Ravens nursing a 31-26 lead with 37 seconds remaining, the Chargers faced a 4th and 2 from Baltimore’s 15-yard line. If they picked up the first down, they would have four cracks at the end zone and have the opportunity to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat.

With a hand injury limiting Philip Rivers’ passing ability, San Diego decided to pull its guards and run to the right side with Darren Sproles in efforts to pick up the first down. But Lewis blitzed on the play, slid past the Chargers’ guards and dropped Sproles for a five-yard loss. The San Diego offensive linemen must have figured that Lewis would be chasing Sproles on the play as they moved past him. But he damn near took the handoff for Sproles in the backfield as he read the play perfectly from the start.

This isn’t the same Baltimore defense without Rex Ryan and Bart Scott. But you’d be insane to think that Lewis will allow his team to take a step back now that Ryan is in New York.

Warner sets record as Cardinals rebound

Kurt Warner set the single-game mark for completion percentage in the Cardinals’ defeated the Jaguars 31-17 on Sunday. Warner completed 24 of his 26 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns, breaking Vinny Testaverde’s completion rating of 91.30, which he set with the Browns in 1993.

Warner was excellent on Sunday, throwing passes to nine different passes and finding Jason Wright and Larry Fitzgerald on touchdown passes of 5-and 22-yards, respectively. Warner also set a team record by completing his first 15 passes in a row, which was set by Jake Plummer on November 8 of 1998.

I hate to crap on Warner’s day but I’m going to do it anyway because I’m a jerk. While his completion percentage of 92% was impressive, he was facing one of the worst defensive backfields in the AFC. The Jaguars couldn’t generate any kind of a pass rush and Warner had a day and a half to throw the ball every time he dropped back.

Remember when the Jaguars used to give teams fits by living in the opponents’ backfields? What happened to Jacksonville’s defense? Oh yeah, it’s in Atlanta with Mike Smith and Mike Peterson…and Buffalo with Marcus Stroud…

Even though Jacksonville’s defense isn’t what it used to be, the record set by Warner couldn’t have happened to a better person. Warner remains one of the classiest players in the league and he needed this performance after last week’s disappointing loss to San Francisco. In fact, the entire Arizona team did.

Hasselbeck suffers injury as 49ers beat Seahawks

It’s always nice when the football gods can add a little insult to injury.

Such was the case on Sunday when the Seahawks fell to the now 2-0 49ers 23-10 in San Francisco. Seattle signal caller Matt Hasselbeck was knocked out of the game after taking a blow to the back from linebacker Patrick Willis while trying to scramble into the end zone at the end of the first half. The team is calling it a rib injury, although there has to be major concern that Hasselbeck took the hit in the back after he virtually missed the entire 2008 season due to back problems.

The insult to Hasselbeck’s injury came when Seneca Wallace entered the game and couldn’t generate any second half points. He did throw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Julius Jones after Hasselbeck left the field, but that’s about where Wallace’s contributions to Seattle stopped as he often settled for check down and underneath passes.

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Bears capitalize on Reed’s missed field goals

If there’s one thing I can’t stand in football, it’s when a kicker can’t make a field goal (or two field goals) in the fourth quarter and it costs his team a chance to win.

Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed missed field goals of 38 and 43 yards in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ 17-14 loss to the Bears, the second of which gave Chicago a chance to win. The field was slick and the turf at Solider Field didn’t do Reed any favors, but Chicago kicker Robbie Gould didn’t have any problem with the conditions as he booted the game-winning 44-yard field goal with just 15 seconds remaining.

Reed choked, plain and simple. That said, I would be doing the Bear faithful a disservice if I didn’t give credit where credit is due. Coming off his brutal four interception night in Green Bay last week, Jay Cutler was excellent against the Steelers on Sunday, throwing for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 27 of 38 passing. He was also 3 for 3 on Chicago’s final scoring drive.

On a day where Pittsburgh took away Matt Forte and the Bears’ rushing attack, Cutler played a near-flawless game while rookie receiver Johnny Knox (6 rec., 70 yards, 1 TD) stepped up in the passing game. If Cutler and Knox can continue to develop chemistry, the Bears’ receiving corps won’t be as bad off as everyone thought.

While the Bears’ defense was certainly aided by Reed’s failures, Chicago did a nice job bottling up Willie Parker (14 carries, 47 yards) and keeping the Steelers out of the end zone in the fourth quarter. They still have some issues in the secondary and they didn’t generate the same pass rush as they did last week in Green Bay, but this is the second week in a row that the Bears’ defense gave the offense an opportunity to win the game.

Even though it’s early, this was a huge win for Lovie Smith’s Bears.

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